Apple's plan to free itself from Flash hits a snag

Faithful readers of this blog will know one of the reasons why Flash for the iPhone is a pipe dream: Apple, in alliance with Mozilla and Google, sees HTML 5, with its planned support for video and audio without the need for a plug-in, as the future. This clearly is aimed right at proprietary Web video solutions like Flash and Silverlight, and Adobe's John Dowdell referred to the plotters as "a consortium of minority browser vendors." Well, like many a cabal of insurgents, this consortium appears to have collapsed into infighting.

According to an e-mail from HTML 5 spec maintainer Ian Hickman (and isn't it reassuring that news still occasionally breaks via e-mails sent to mailing lists, instead on the Twitter or whatever the kids use?), the sections of the HTML 5 spec that would have defined the codecs that the <audio> and <video> tags would have been required to support will now be removed. This move is essentially because nobody can agree on what those codecs are. Apple is really pushing for H.264, a codec it's already made extensive use of in Quicktime; but Opera calls the patent licensing fees for that codec "obscene," and Mozilla can't get a license that would cover other folks who want to distribute the open source browser. Mozilla and Opera would prefer the use of Ogg Theora, an open source and royalty-free alternative that Apple doesn't think is up to par.

Google is willing to support both in Chrome, but the line in the email that is most telling is this: "Microsoft has not commented on their intent to support <video> at all." Assuming that Microsoft isn't planning on backing this element, it was always going to be an uphill climb to get this going. But if Apple can't get even the other anti-IE rebels to back it in its attempt to provide a relatively broadly accepted alternative, then it may have no choice but to eventually allow plug-ins for its mobile Web browser.

(Note: The original version of this blog post attributed the "consortium of minority browser vendors" quote to the Adobe CEO -- apologies on my part.)

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